Exploring the world of fiber, one draft at a time

My posting can be as frequent or infrequent as my spinning, so be as patient as that fiber, sitting in my stash.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

How not to knit sleeves on a cotton sweater

Sometimes, drastic problems call for drastic solutions.

Two years ago I began knitting this cotton cardigan for my daughter. It's a challenging pattern done in a worsted weight cotton. We measured and swatched and washed swatches and remeasured. Basically the sweater body came out to her satisfaction, but the sleeves were massively too large. This was discovered late last fall, shortly before her wedding. We said, OK try washing the sweater and see if the sleeves improve. Months passed, and finally one knitting group day, my daughter returned the sweater to me. The sleeves were just too large, could we do anything about it?

Here's a photo on the original sweater sleeve:

I confess I stuck the sweater in a drawer for awhile trying to decide what to do. I now understood how the sleeves came to be too big, besides the maybe too few decreases. I had adapted the pattern. Instead of knitting the sleeves as separate pieces using straight knitting needles, I had taken circular needles, picked up stitches all around the armhole and knitted down to the cuff. Normally, this is a very good idea. However with this cotton yarn, the circulars stretched the yarn, causing a bigger gauge. And that meant the sleeve was too wide by about 4 inches. My choices were to completely reknit two sleeves, using the original design, or to try and fit the current sleeves to her size.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained the saying goes. If I cut and sewed the current sleeves and they didn't work, I was only back to reknitting them again with new yarn. Fortunately there was plenty of yarn left over, I had been knitting from large cones of cotton yarn and had a full cone left. So I switched my mindset from that of a knitter to that of a seamstress, and tackled the project of making the sleeve fit.

First I made a paper pattern piece of the way the sleeve would have been if knit flat. Here's a picture of the sleeve with the pattern piece on it, which shows how the sleeve had flaired too wide.

I actually wrapped the pattern piece around the sleeve, putting the excess fabric on the underarm side. Then I took thick crochet cotton and did a running stitch down the sides of the pattern on the sweater. Basically this gave me a section outlined on the sleeve that should be removed. I had to then cut up the middle of that area from cuff to armhole, so the sleeve would be flat. Once it was flat I could easily sew two close set lines of stitching next to the basting marks, and cut away the excess knitting. I then treated it just like a sewn sleeve, by laying the two right sides together and doing an overlap type stitch to sew the sleeve back together.

Here's a photo of the inside and the seam. It's not pretty, but it did seem secure.

On the outside, it's almost impossible to even see the seam:

I was finally sure it all worked well though, when my daughter tried it on that night. Here's the final picture of the finished sweater on her.

I have heard many horror stories about knitting sweaters in cotton yarn. I now seem to have my own to add to them. I will say that this pattern did knit up well in cotton. All of the cabling gave a nice firm feel to the fabric and kept the stretch to a minimum. Except of course for those sleeves!



cyndy said...

That sweater is beautiful! You did a wonderful job at fixing it!

Lavender said...

The fix turned out really well. I have a wool sweater I made for my husband years ago that need sleeve fixing. Same thing...the body fits but the sleeves grew after the first washing. It's been 16 years and I think I rather knit him a new sweater than face fixing this. :)